Wednesday, February 8, 2017

"Gosnell" book review

[Today's guest post is by Crystal Kupper.]

As a grad student/military wife/mom/freelance writer/runner who moved continents last year with four small children in tow, I rarely read anything these days unless it’s a textbook or test result. But when I saw that a husband-and-wife journalism team from Ireland had written a book about Kermit Gosnell, the law-breaking abortionist from Philadelphia, I knew I had to clear my schedule.  

That chance came just a few days after Gosnell: The Untold Story of America’s Most Prolific Serial Killer was released on January 24. Thanks to my father’s retirement party, I flew to Oregon on a lightning-quick trip (congratulations, Dad, and your grandkids are expecting you!). Though I spent more time traveling than partying, the flights from Eugene to Philly did give me many uninterrupted hours to both start and finish the book. Sadly, the woman next to me reading Gloria Steinem’s autobiography didn’t seem to notice my pick, but I appreciated the irony from the universe.  

And oh, how ironic the entire Gosnell story is.  

Kermit Gosnell was a wealthy Pennsylvania abortionist in one of Philly’s poorest neighborhoods. Never one to let laws and regulations hold him back from advancing the cause of “women’s health,” Gosnell relied on shortcuts, cats, hitmen, high school dropouts and teenagers, beyond-lazy government officials, complete media silence and absolute fear to keep his clinic at 3801 Lancaster open and running. Despite dozens of clear-cut chances to get caught, Gosnell managed to molest, neglect, physically damage, abuse, harass, violate, steal from, lie to, cheat, racially segregate and murder for decades — and that’s just his women patients.  

Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer (of the documentary Frack Nation fame) stay true to their journalist roots with the story of how the law eventually caught up to Gosnell’s money-making schemes (let’s just say Gosnell took “Reduce, reuse, recycle!” way too far). In 2013, the beach-house owning, cash-rich M.D. was convicted of killing four people, but is thought to have murdered hundreds — perhaps thousands — in a 30-year spree. McElhinney and McAleer describe the investigation inside the grossly-kept Women’s Medical Society in a fairly straightforward, newspaper-ish manner; an entertaining Ann Rule true-crime style wasn’t necessary, as the actual, bare facts are ghoulish enough.  

I was giving birth to my third child when Gosnell was at court. I remember holding my precious, perfect daughter in one hand while scrolling through the news stories with the other, and my brain and heart just couldn’t reconcile the two: a beautiful newborn safe against my chest, while on the other side of the country — in what one day would be very close to my new home — newborns the same age had been stabbed with scissors and had their spinal cords “snipped,” all for their crime of being alive. Gosnell tells it all in a fairly unemotional manner, though the authors’ humanity (don’t tell the good doctor such a trait still exists!) slips through occasionally.  

If you’re just now hearing about this, it’s not your fault. Though Regnery Publishing says that Gosnell was the fourth best-selling non-fiction hardcover over its first week (and a movie is also in the works), the New York Times left it off its eponymous best-sellers list. That’s quite a feat for a book that is currently sold out on AmazonBarnes & Nobles and Books A Million (not to worry, one can still download the Kindle version)! Such a blackout would be in keeping with the media’s near-absolute refusal to cover the trial — a topic McElhinney and McAleer devote considerable space to.  

In a major surprise, the only role religion plays in Gosnell is to support what Gosnell does, and from Gosnell himselfIn bizarre letters to and a visit with the authors, Gosnell uses several Scriptures to justify abortion as a social good (apparently “Every seed has not its destiny to fulfill its potential” and “Fruit trees only flourish over years when well-pruned in early spring” apparently really mean, “Kill that crying, breathing, swimming bastard baby using thine holy scissors.”). Another irony, given the events of the past week: Gosnell indirectly killed a non-English speaking, disadvantaged female immigrant from Nepal. Crying out for justice for the dead Karnamaya Mongar, however, hasn’t been such a popular, widespread cause [note: SPL fully supports immigrants’ rights to actual, safe, professional medical care in whatever country they reside].  

Can Gosnell be dismissed as an outlier, a “rogue practitioner” as Ruth Bader Ginsburg called him? Reading this book convinced me that the answer is probably no. If states with a fair amount of abortion limits (abortions in Pennsylvania are prohibited after 24 weeks, for example, though that didn’t stop the generous Gosnell) are routinely ignoring filthy, deplorable conditions in abortion clinics and blatantly unlawful workers and practices, as they did with 3801 Lancaster, then what might be happening in my home state? Oregon has virtually zero restrictions surrounding abortion; you can abort your unborn child at 40 weeks for literally any reason whatsoever, no questions asked. If Gosnell could operate for decades in a redder state like Pennsylvania — protected by officials who didn’t want to paint abortion in a negative light — what could be going on in the bluest of the blue states, where violently ending pregnancy is just as much of a sacred right as cheering for the Ducks or Beavers?  

This book isn’t an easy read, but it is a necessary read if you want to be fully informed in the human rights debate. Before 24 hours passed on the last page, I had loaned it out with a near-apology: “This is going to disturb you, but I’m not sorry. You need to know.”  

You do, too.  

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